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Cuba to host international LGBT conference

Critics of island’s human rights record criticize organizers



Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro speaks during a press conference in Philadelphia on May 4, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than 400 advocates from across the world will travel to Cuba next week to attend the first international LGBT conference that will take place in the Communist country.

The sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional Conference will take place in the beach resort of Varadero. A number of parties and other events are scheduled to take place in nearby Havana, the Cuban capital, during the gathering.

Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX,) is president of the local committee that organized the ILGALAC conference.

Mariela Castro did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment. CENESEX’s website prominently features information about the ILGALAC conference that includes a preliminary agenda.

“As the host country for the sixth ILGALAC Regional Conference, Cuba is not exempt from the problems of the region’s LGBTI communities,” states the organization. “The humanistic nature of the Cuban Revolution has focused on the human being in his teleological purposes since its beginning. Although the Cuban LGBTI movement does not have the organization of other international movements, the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the country is now evident with more impact and achievements.”

Robyn Ochs, a bisexual advocate and writer who is a member of the MassEquality Board of Directors, will appear on a panel with Indian writer Vikram Seth and Víctor Hugo Robles, a Chilean LGBT rights advocate known as “El Che de los Gays” or “Che (Guevara) of the Gays.”

Mariela Castro is scheduled to moderate it.

“I’ve long been interested in transnational conversations,” Ochs told the Blade, noting the conference is the first time she will have traveled to Cuba. “I hope to learn a great deal.”

Wilfred Labiosa, who is another MassEquality board member, will also travel to Cuba and present at the ILGALAC conference.

“We can learn so much; how to organize and mobilize as a cohesive group instead of people pulling their way to the way that they want and not as a group,” he said. “The Socialist regime can teach us so much about organizing and mobilizing.”

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, will attend the conference alongside CENESEX and another group affiliated with it. He told the Blade in an e-mail he feels the gathering will allow Cuban advocates to gain a better understanding of international LGBT rights movements.

“It will increase visibility for the continents’ other LGBTI movements and Cuban efforts and strategies towards respect of freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity and stopping discrimination motivated by them,” said Rodríguez.

ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade earlier this week from México there is “a great enthusiasm” on the part of the Latin American and Caribbean advocates who plan to travel to the island.

“I think that ILGALAC 2014 will be a great experience from which there is a lot to learn,” she said. “Latin America today is considered one of the most promising regions for the LGBTI community. The movement has matured in a clear way. In the great majority of the countries there has been a respectful dialogue with the government that has made it possible for not only legal advances, but the orchestration of public policies and a greater visibility and respect for the LGBTI condition.”

Anti-LGBT discrimination, violence persist amid legal gains

Same-sex couples are currently able to legally marry in Mexico City, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Dutch Caribbean the French islands of Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Guadeloupe and Martinique and French Guiana. Marriage, civil unions and other forms of relationship recognition for same-sex couples have begun to gain traction in Colombia, Perú, Chile and a number of other Mexican states in recent months.

Two women in Puerto Rico in March filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in the U.S. commonwealth. Mariela Castro has previously stated she supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Many Latin American countries include sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression in their anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws, but anti-LGBT violence remains a serious problem.

A report that Global Rights, D.C.-based international human rights group, published late last year noted trans Brazilians accounted for slightly more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the country in 2012 — and an estimated 52 percent of them were people of color. The murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay last summer further underscored the rampant anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exists in the country.

Jamaica and Belize are among the 11 English-speaking countries in Central America and the Caribbean in which homosexuality remains criminalized, although their sodomy laws have been challenged in court.

“We’re very keen as a Caribbean regional network to participate in the conference, to be well-represented and to bring Cuba into the regional network,” said Colin Robinson of CAISO, an LGBT advocacy group in Trinidad and Tobago. “We’re eager to partner with relevant partners on the ground in Cuba.”

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, will attend the ILGALAC conference.

Both she and Robinson have applauded Cuba on its LGBT rights record that includes the passage of a proposal late last year that seeks to amend the country’s labor law to ban anti-gay employment discrimination.

The Communist Party of Cuba in 2012 approved a resolution against anti-LGBT discrimination.

Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2008. They also credit Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV rates.

“We have been following the success of Cuba and how they are open to work with and recognize LGBT persons,” Placide told the Blade on Friday. “CENESEX, although not involved in a lot of the Caribbean work directly, is looked to as a leader in activism on gay rights, thanks to the guidance of Mariela Castro.”

“Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of the current Cuban president, has been able to influence that,” added José Ramón, a Venezuelan LGBT rights advocate who has lived in Spain since violent clashes between supporters of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition broke out in February. “It is also positive because a good part of the movements that will take part in the conference are sympathetic to the Cuban government.”

Robles described the ILGALAC conference as a “unique, significant and historic opportunity.”

“At the same time, Cuba and its diverse organizations and public institutions have become open and shown solidarity with ILGALAC activists in an example of valiant social, political, community and institutional integration,” he told the Blade.

Critics of Cuban government criticize conference organizers

ILGALAC has come under criticism from those who feel the conference should not take place in Cuba because of the country’s human rights record.

“Hosting a conference on LGBT rights is just another farcical attempt by the Cuban regime to pretend they care about anyone’s rights,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the Blade in a statement. “The sad reality is that the Cuban people are harassed, beaten and bullied for having a point of view that differs from the regime’s. This desperate move to seem tolerant does not even come close to obscuring the repressive reality on the island.”

The Florida Republican who was born in Cuba last May blasted Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, over its decision to honor Mariela Castro.

Ignacio Estrada Cepera, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, was also critical of ILGALAC’s decision to hold its conference in Cuba.

His wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans woman who used to work for CENESEX, told the Blade last summer while in D.C. they feel Mariela Castro “totally manipulates the (Cuban) LGBT community.”

Estrada repeatedly noted during the trip the Cuban government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities in 2012 detained her as she tried to bring materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service during the 1960s. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for sending gay men to the camps known as Military Units to Aid Production or by their Spanish acronym UMAPs.

Estrada, Iriepa and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates who work independently from Mariela Castro and CENESEX say they continue to face harassment from the authorities.

“This event is the worst response to what is happening on the island and a mockery to the true Cuban LGBT community,” Estrada told the Blade from Miami.

Two staffers from Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, who are already in Havana are meeting with members of the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba who are not affiliated with CENESEX. The group on Friday issued a press release that criticized Mariela Castro and ILGALAC for not inviting them to the conference.

“The Cuban authorities, through the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX,) through its director’s political use of family ties and personal aura, try to control, manipulate and win international legitimacy as promoters and guaranters of rights for the LGBTI community.”

Hernando Muñoz of Colombia Diversa, another Colombian LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade during a telephone interview from Bogotá, the country’s capital, before traveling to Cuba for the ILGALAC conference that he is aware of criticisms over the island’s human rights record. He and Mariela Castro attended a 2010 conference in Madrid during which he said she tried to say Cuba was “perfect” and “everything was going great for homosexuals.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Other conference attendees criticized the U.S. over its policy towards Cuba that includes a decades’ long economic and travel embargo.

“Cuba is more than what some group of (Miami) Cubans say it is,” said Labiosa. “It is a country full of rich culture, friendly people and a government that wants to bring change under these horrible conditions perpetuated by this relic U.S. embargo.”

“It is a 55-year-old dinosaur that should never have been implemented, was never effective and should long ago have been lifted,” added Ochs. “It is arbitrary: Why Cuba and why not countries such as Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda or all of the other countries with abysmal human rights records, specifically toward LGBT people.”

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  1. Iniciativa Cubaverdad

    May 3, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Maybe Fidel Castro can appear and personally apologize for the crimes against humanity he admitted to with respect to the treatment of homosexuals in his UMAP concentration camps. He has taken personal responsibility for that but has never accepted to stand trial for his crimes.
    Safely hidden in Cuba he will escape his punishment.
    He should stand trial in The Hague.

    More on the UMAP and the problems of homosexuals in Cuba:
    "Las UMAP: Los campos de concentración de Castro"
    "Cuba Gay: información sobre la vida de gays en Cuba"

  2. Ernesto Hernandez-Rodriguez

    May 3, 2014 at 9:16 am

    “El Che de los Gays”? What a joke.
    Che Guevara was homophobic.

    Escritora asegura que el Che era homofobico
    Publicado el jueves 10 de enero del 2008

    "La escritora cubana Zoé Valdés lamentó ayer el poco conocimiento que hay en el mundo sobre la figura del ''Che'' y de su obra, en la que lejos de
    la imagen que se difunde de él, “plantea modelos de perfección viril que niegan la homosexualidad, la bisexualidad y la transexualidad''."

  3. Anonymous

    May 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Conferences, resolutions, and the like butter no parsnips if they do not lead to changes in the laws.

    Read the article "LGTB rights in Cuba" in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia" and see for yourself how next to nothing has so far been accomplished — and that's with someone no less than Fidel Castro's daughter at the helm. Not that she is to blame. She is doing what she can, but the net result of her efforts is close to zero.

  4. Humberto Capiro

    May 4, 2014 at 4:53 am

    THE WASHINGTON DC BLADE: Cuban LGBT rights advocates arrive in D.C. – By Michael K. Lavers on July 29, 2013
    Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are visiting the United States for three months on Monday arrived in D.C. Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz on Monday met with staffers of Us Helping Us, an HIV/AIDS service organization, and Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center. Estrada and Iriepa are also scheduled to meet with Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Capitol hill on Wednesday before they return to Miami.

    Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, told the Blade while at Casa Ruby that he and Iriepa, a transgender woman who used to work for Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) — which is directed by Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro — want to “show how we live, how we work” in Cuba while they are in the U.S.

    The couple, who married in a high-profile wedding in Havana, the Cuban capital, in 2011, said Mariela Castro presents what they described as a distorted reality of the island’s LGBT community to the world.

    “Mariela totally manipulates the LGBT community,” Iriepa said.

    Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to the U.S. to accept an award from Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group.

    Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. Iriepa herself had SRS in 2007 while she worked at CENESEX.

    Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus also have access to free anti-retroviral drugs.


  5. Humberto Capiro

    May 4, 2014 at 4:54 am

    YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 –
    Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

  6. Humberto Capiro

    May 4, 2014 at 4:55 am

    YOUTUBE: CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Nadie Escuchaba" (Nobody Listened) 1 of 12
    Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the "Cuban Revolution" going wrong, while "nobody listened." This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it's not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro's dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the "president" of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

  7. Kursad Kahramanoglu

    May 4, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Thanks to ILGA, Cuban LGBTI is taking its rightful place amongst the World LGBTI community. As usual USA LGBTI organizations are first Americans, then LGBTI activists. Their absence and lukewarm support to this event neither will reduce the importance of this ILGALAC Conference, nor dampen the enthusiasm at this wonderful event. Viva LGBTI Rights, viva Cuba.

    Kursad Kahramanoglu

  8. Humberto Capiro

    May 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 – Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

  9. Humberto Capiro

    May 6, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    YOUTUBE: CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Nadie Escuchaba" (Nobody Listened) 1 of 12
    Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the "Cuban Revolution" going wrong, while "nobody listened." This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it's not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro's dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the "president" of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

  10. Humberto Capiro

    May 6, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Cuba urged to revoke repressive laws and release prisoners of conscience
    Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Cuban authorities to revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association and to release all dissidents unfairly detained by the authorities. The organization also urged President Raúl Castro to allow independent monitoring of the human rights situation in Cuba by inviting UN experts to visit the country and by facilitating monitoring by other human rights groups.

    The call came ahead of the 7th anniversary of the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents around 18 March 2003. Fifty-three of those arrested continue to be detained. One of those arrested in March 2003, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on 22 February 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike in protest at prison conditions.

    "Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "Cuba desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the country in line with basic international human rights standards.

    "The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself but also constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo against Cuba."

    Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Criminal Code are so vague that they are currently being interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental freedoms.

    Article 91 of Cuba's Criminal Code provides for sentences of ten to 20 years or death for anyone "who in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state".

    According to article 72 "any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality" and article 75.1 states that any police officer can issue a warning for such "dangerousness". The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided summarily. A warning may also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person".

    Law 88 provides for seven to 15 years' imprisonment for passing information to the United States that could be used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, such as the US economic blockade. The legislation also bans the ownership, distribution or reproduction of "subversive materials" from the US government, and proposes terms of imprisonment of up to five years for collaborating with radio, TV stations or publications deemed to be assisting US policy.

    Local non-governmental organizations have great difficulty in reporting on human rights violations due to restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, association and movement. International independent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are not allowed to visit the island.

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise



Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots



New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011



shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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